A History of Old Shop Fronts

Brookes Antiques by Leeza KAne

The emergence of the consumer began during the 18th century, with the introduction of luxury goods such as tea, cotton and tobacco. People became customers and certain streets in a town or village became retail areas.

Shops began to evolve from open-fronted counters between the shop and the street to those incorporated into buildings. The fitting of large glazed window displays was established in Dublin at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th, with Maltons Prints of Dublin being one of the first. During the 19th century the introduction of advertising and competition saw shop front displays explode onto the streets and shops became individual entities.

One of Ireland’s oldest shops, Thomas Read’s on Parliament Street was a sword cutlers, trading for over 200 years. It was established in 1670, later becoming known as a place to buy a good scissors or a set of knives. It is now closed down and boarded up but on the front in fine calligraphy it states that it is the oldest shop in Ireland.

Mr Michael Smith of An Taisce says, “Read’s was not only the oldest but also the most charming shop in Dublin, with much of its interior still intact, the owner promised to keep it and even to put in a museum on the first floor, but, needless to say, this hasn’t happened,” he added.

Brookes Antiques on Baggot Street was originally a chemist from 1890 to 1966 and the original, highly decorative name and glass front of the shop remain intact, plus the original cast iron down pipes on either side of the pilasters. It was bought by owner Pat Ryan, who says, “the old character of the shop has been retained, it has never been altered and includes the old medicine cabinets with the labels naming the medicines and powders. Every day the shop is photographed by tourists and people during the summer months, it’s been in magazines and publications around the world.”

Sandymount Pharmacy on the Green is 150 years old and is a preserved building. Owner of the pharmacy, Grainne Murphy explains, “Years ago the original glass broke but couldn’t be replaced here in Ireland because of the curve, so it was replaced with perspex about 20 years ago”. Originally belonging to the pub, it has been a grocery store, bookshop, hardware store and a restaurant.

Nuzum Bros by Leeza Kane

On Pearse Street, number 201, the Nuzum Bros shop is a closed down old shop and dates back to the 1830s. The Nuzum family were originally French Huguenots and came to Ireland in the late 1600s. The owner of the shop is listed as a coal agent in the Dublin Street Directory in 1862.

Most of the old shop fronts that survive in Dublin today date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Irish conservation guidelines, “The preservation of the remaining examples of this very Irish art and craft is vital for the retention of the identity and character of villages and towns.”

Photos by Leeza Kane.

By Leeza Kane